21 June 2014, 11:32

Microsoft, Google to protect their phones with 'kill switch'

Microsoft, Google to protect their phones with 'kill switch'

After Apple added an 'activation lock' and 'delete phone' options to its Find My iPhone app as part of iOS 7 last September, iPhone thefts have radically dropped. A 'soft' kill switch like this allows to block a thief from accessing the phone and gives users the power to completely disable a smartphone remotely after it has been stolen.

It also increases security by adding more password layers, to make it more difficult to wipe and then be sold.

However, while iPhone owners triumphed, thieves switched to other not that protected smartphones.

"In the first five months of 2014, robberies and grand larcenies involving Apple products dropped 19% and 29%, respectively, compared to the same time period from 2013.In San Francisco, iPhone robberies declined 38% while robberies of Samsung devices increased by 12%. In London, Apple thefts declined by 24% while Samsung thefts increased by 3%", a report says.

So Google and Microsoft are now planning to incorporate a "kill switch" technology into the next versions of their smartphone as well, the New York Attorney General announced today. The Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who also leads the Secure Our Smart Phones Initiative, started a coalition of law enforcement officials to push the industry into adding the technology to their phones, Daily Mail reports.

Attorney General’s "Secure Our Smartphones" initiative explained how smartphones without a kill switch saw a rise in thefts: "Perhaps most tellingly, robberies and grand larcenies from a person involving a Samsung smartphone, which did not have a kill switch during much of this time, increased by over 40%".

Reacting to this, earlier this year, Samsung introduced a feature called Reactivation Lock to some of its Galaxy smartphones, which allows users to lock their phone remotely.

With Android and Microsoft joining in smartphones will have the feature embedded in them. There’s no information yet on when the update will be rolled out.

However, carriers and trade association CITA, which represents the wireless telecommunications industry, had previously opposed the idea of a kill switch, claiming that "it isn’t the answer". CITA argued that hackers could use the feature to hijack a kill signal. And if a phone is turned off or in flight mode then it might not receive the kill signal at all. This is why some legislators are pushing for a hard kill switch which instead of rendering the phone unusable to an unauthorized user, would make it permanently unusable once stolen.

Wireless Association, a Washington based group that represents the wireless communications industry, said in April that it would offer technology next year that will give phone users the option of rendering their devises inoperable and wiping them of data in case of theft, Forbes reports.

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